The release of new superhero movie Thor just might bring 2011 its first mega blockbuster. Based on the enduring Marvel comic book, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor, a hot headed warrior prince banished by his deity-like father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) from the heavenly space kingdom of Asgard to Earth, where he learns humility and falls in love with Natalie Portman (as one would).
Yet every hero is in need of a villain, and Thor has a doozie in his scheming step-brother Loki, played by upcoming British actor Tom Hiddleston who will soon be seen in Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming Warhorse.
Also starring in Thor is American actress Jaimie Alexander, who plays the beautiful yet deadly Asgardian warrior Sif.
I had the chance to talk to both actors during the Sydney leg of the Thor promo tour.
Did either of you guys know about the comic before being approached for the film?
Jaimie: Probably in middle school. My brother has always read comic books like X-Men and Spider-Man, and that sort of thing. I heard about Thor and read a few, and it was something I was interested in when I was younger. Then we revisited it of course when I got the role, and very happily so.
Tom: Do you know what Top Trumps are? Basically they are a lot like trading cards, but you could get them for lots of different things like racing cars, or motorbikes, or fighter planes. I had the Marvel superhero era of Top Trumps, which had all of the characters of the Marvel universe. Each card had a picture and their vital statistics like height, weight, super powers and intelligence, which were used when you’re competing against a friend. Both Thor and Loki were in there, and that was my first encounter with them.
Your scenes are based firmly in Asgard, which is a very special effects heavy environment. What are the challenges of working with CGI?
Tom: I would say it’s all about imagination and trying to paint the picture in your mind’s eye. But all of the interiors in Asgard were built sets, which were incredible. So anything you see inside like the throne room, or the healing room, or Odin’s bed chamber, those were all built by Bo Welch our production designer.
Jaimie: It was incredible!
Tom: The shining bronze and gold…they do so much of the work for you.
Jaimie: The green screen was fun. A lot of the times when we were fighting on the green screen, there would be a little green piece of paper, on a stick bouncing around with somebody at the bottom trying to make it look like its walking or something, so you just crack up laughing at it.
But it was great because Kenneth (Branagh, director) really narrated everything that we did. It couldn’t be awkward or off, because we all had to react at the same time at the same direction, so Ken with his theatrical, booming voice and personality would narrate what we were going through, so you really could see it! He really painted a perfect picture of what was going on, so without him I probably would be a tad bit lost.
Tom: It’s a real skill actually, acting with the green screen. Because there is no external stimulant, and that’s really the holy grail of acting if you want to spontaneous. But when you’ve got nothing to respond to, then you’re kind of cooking it up in your own mind…
Jaimie :…and everybody is different. So what Tom would imagine in his mind would be very different in my mind.
Tom: But it was a very fun film, and Ken was really tremendous at that and really attacked it in an imaginative way. A scene where we are battling Frost Giants, we were walking along this set which would later be recreated with ice bergs was actually green screen, and Ken had a microphone when the camera was rolling and would say, “You’re walking through an ice plane, and to your left is a tower of ice which is crumbling in front of you, and to your right is a shadow where a Frost Giant could emerge at anytime. You’re absolutely terrified, you’re breathing cold and up ahead of you is a Frost Giant”…and you need that.
Actors usually find something to relate to or like in their villains. What was it that you found in Loki that was likeable?
Jaimie: The hair!
Tom: (laughs) Yeah, I had to dye my hair and straighten it. I always think that it doesn’t matter if you’re playing a hero or villain, you have to try and find a way to get your arms around it, and make it personal to you.
I wanted to play Loki as a misguided, misunderstood anti-hero rather than a villain. I think in the comics all of those aspects are there, the psychological complexity, his intelligence, and his pain essentially. His sadness, his grief and his confusion, that he doesn’t belong anywhere in the universe which he finds himself. How do I tap into that? It’s one of those things that is quite mysterious and happens because of what the director is doing, or what Chris (Hemsworth) is doing, or what Anthony Hopkins is doing.
Really it’s about an extension of compassion for the predicament and try to boil it down to something simple and what it is that you want. Does he want the love and affection of his father? How is he going to get it? Try to inhabit the power of those extreme feelings and go there in your own mind. That is always the big acting question: What would it actually be like?
You’re character is the lone female in what is essentially a boys club. So what was it like roughing it up alongside the likes of Tom, Chris and Ray Stevenson?
Jaimie: Oh, Ray. Don’t ever try to high five Ray, ever! (laughs) It was a lot of fun. I grew up with four brothers, so it came naturally. We all trained together for a couple months before we started shooting, which helped everybody bond together.
(Points to Tom) He’s incredibly flexible! Like ridiculously flexible. So it was always funny watching Chris trying to do these yoga movements, because he could bench press an entire house, but if you ask him to do certain yoga poses he’s like awkward! (laughs) But it was great to learn all of our weaknesses and strengths, and it became almost ceremony-ish.
Tom: It is amazing what Jaimie does, by the way. If I could hold my own in the same way with a group of five women, that would be really…
Tom: Exciting, yeah (laughs) So, hats off.
Jaimie: Thank you.
There is a lot riding on the success of Thor, especially since it’s seen as a build up to The Avengers movie. Was any of that pressure felt on set?
Tom: I don’t think so. I believe Kenneth would be the first in line to refute that as a claim. He is so behind Thor as a standalone story. He has such a personal connection to the comic book because of the character, and so passionate about making a really, really terrific piece of cinema. He left the bigger question about the Marvel universe to Kevin Fiege (producer). Occasionally, he would be told to certain things have to be a certain way and he would lay it down the line. But I don’t think that affected him at all.
There is a tidbit after the credits to suggest that Loki isn’t done having fun. Is it safe to assume he will be back to wreck havoc on the Avengers?
Tom: (laughs) I don’t know. It’s one of those ongoing conversations I am having with Marvel producers about if Loki comes back, how does he come back and where does he come back. But I think we haven’t seen the last of him. Joss Whedon has such a big job ahead. He has eight superheros to put in the one film. It’s like bringing together a fleet of ocean liners and getting them all to set sail together. It’s a pretty hard task on its own, but he will be able to do it.
Thor will be released in Australian cinemas on April 21st through Paramount Pictures.